The concept of open source has been around for a long time. The basic idea is that programmers leave the source code open for all to use and edit. For a great overview of open source in general, read Steven Weber’s The Success of Open Source. But in recent years we see the idea of open source being applied to courses in higher education. The most notable example is MIT Open Courseware, where syllabi, notes, and sometimes audio/video lectures are made freely available for others to use. This particular site has influenced my course design work. When I am working with an instructor, it is hard for me not to take a few minutes to browse MIT Open Courseware to see what the folks at MIT are doing with the same topic. What resources are they using? It isn’t limited to MIT. In fact, MIT is a member of the OpenCourseWare Consortium, an international collaborative of similar initiatives. We can add to this trend ITunes University where you can view or listen to lectures from Princeton or go through lectures from an intensive Biblical Greek course at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.
I learned from the AIR liistserv today that Yale is active in the open university movement also. According to the Open Yale Course FAQ page, courses at Open Yale Courses “include[s] a full set of class lectures produced in high-quality video accompanied by such other course materials as syllabi, suggested readings, and problem sets. The lectures are available as downloadable videos, and an audio-only version is also offered. In addition, searchable transcripts of each lecture are provided.” For more information, read the December 12 news release from Yale.
Unless I am mistaken, none of these open source university initiatives offers what I consider to be most important in the learning experience: community, collaboration, frequent feedback, assessment on student work, mentoring, and guidance. Most universities will not out lecture or out syllabize places like Yale and MIT. Now that the content and tools are free, I am hopeful that more will recognize that content and tools are not what make a University distinct. This is a wakeup call to all the online programs that simply constitute recorded lectures, readings, and a few papers. Most of that is free already! If you are serious about e-learning, then redesign your courses as learning communities.